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Mathew Baker's early concept of ship hull design, ca. 1570


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Below is a reproduction of the oldest ship plan of English origin, taken from the manuscript Fragments of Ancient English Shipwrightry by Mathew Baker (British Archives). This drawing is widely reproduced and more or less extensively commented on in numerous modern publications, but so far I have not yet encountered a detailed analysis of it, especially by graphic means. 

 

The plan is attractive for at least two reasons: it is complete in the sense that it would have already enabled the construction of the ship's hull in full scale by shipwrights. Secondly, its historical potential is considerable, as it represents a method of design different from the methods known from the later English treatises and manuals such as Harriot ms, 'Newton' ms, anon. ms 1620, Bushnell and Deane ms. Apart from other considerations, this very plan is a further indication of where to look for the roots of the methods then creatively developed by English shipwrights.

 

The drawing contains quite a few inaccuracies characteristic of hand drawing. Reproducing errors of this kind as well as a simple redrawing misses the point, so in the following reconstruction I will rather look for the intention of the designer, trying to find as many regularities, proportions and interrelationships as possible.

 

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Here is an interesting figure from Olaberria, Juan Pablo. 2018. “Ship Design-Knowledge in Early Modern Europe: Royal Yachts and the Shared Knowledge of Ship-Designers and Common Shipwrights.” Doctor of Philosophy, University of Southampton. https://www.academia.edu/36363637/Ship_design-knowledge_in_early_modern_Europe_Royal_yachts_and_the_shared_knowledge_of_ship-designers_and_common_shipwrights

 

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One of Barker's analyses can be found here - also extensive discussion of Sutherland.

 

Barker, Richard. 2001. “Whole-Moulding: A Preliminary Study of Early English and Other Sources.” In Shipbuilding Practice and Ship Design Methods from the Renaissance to the 18th Century: A Workshop Report, edited by H Nowacki and Matteo Valleriani, Preprint 245, 33–65. [Berlin]: Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte. https://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/Preprints/P245.PDF.
 
Also see
 
Barker, Richard. 1988. “‘Many May Peruse Us’: Ribbands, Moulds and Models in the Dockyards.” Revista Da Universidade de Coimbra XXXIV: 539–59.

 

Sergio Bellabarba offers an interesting theory concerning early ship design.

 

Bellabarba, Sergio. 1996. “The Origins of the Ancient Methods of Designing Hulls: A Hypothesis.” The Mariner’s Mirror 82 (3): 259–68. https://doi.org/10.1080/00253359.1996.10656602.

 

There are also works by Steffy, Hock, Reith, and Castro that you may find useful.

 

 

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Thank you again Wayne. Indeed, I have found most of these studies useful in my reconstructions. I now intend to actually analyze this particular plan by Baker using graphical methods.

 

And no, there will be no comparisons to cod's heads and mackerel's tails in my reconstruction.  🙂

 

 

Edited by Waldemar
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According to the most refined scale on the left-hand side of the drawing, the keel length (K) of the ship is 60 feet. The (design) hull breadth (B) is 24 feet.

 

All dimensions are in feet, and in parentheses are given their proportions relating to other parts of the ship, as found in the most logical or expected way.

 

The first step was to define the axial elements of the skeleton. The sketch is self-explanatory, except for the vertical of the stempost rake, which was made double to enable its drawing construction. The upper arc of the stempost is tangent to the lower arc in the point A, and passes through the point B.

 

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This is followed by the guiding rails, extremely important for this method: those of the breadth and of the floor. These rails have been drawn in the original plan in the simplest possible way as arcs of circles.

 

The height of both ends of the floor line is quite typical for the period. In the middle this line touches the keel. Despite this, it is clear from the midship frame profile featuring a deadrise, that this is a drawing mistake or just simplification.

 

Surprisingly, the position of the midship frame does not coincide with the greatest width of the ship.

 

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Good Evening Waldemar;

 

Nice to see someone taking a fresh interest in this fascinating work. The original is in the Pepys Library, at Magdalen College, Cambridge. It was written firstly by Baker, and then later, after his death, further pages were added by a second hand, believed to be Wells, the storekeeper at Deptford, although he was much more than this in fact. The second part uses logarithms, which only appeared around 1618, some years after Baker's death in 1613.

 

I have been lucky enough to be able to study this work in the original, although not for as long as I would have liked. It is a fascinating, beautifully illustrated book, which is actually much larger than one might expect, with over a hundred pages. 

 

There was an attempt started many years ago to produce a proper commentary on it, something which should have been done long ago. The Pepys Library allowed photographs of the work to be taken to aid in this project (normally almost impossible to do) which was to be a combined effort by two well known specialists. Unfortunately, this has never been completed, with work stalled long ago, and is unlikely to ever be re-started. 

 

All the best,

 

Mark P

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Until I read the title I had not registered the significance of the 1570 date for Baker.  The broad outlines for his design methods are still in use 100 years later in Deane.

 

Were I from a naval architecture and an early modern period historian  and my ambition was to produce a temporarily definitive text for ship design of the period, I would explore the following assertions:   Unfortunately,  no matter how well it is done, such a text would only ever be unprovable supposition.

 

The first to develop this "new" design and construction method were the Dutch.

 

The Dutch were totally secretive within their own family clans as to what were the specifics of their methods.

 

The English imported Dutch shipbuilders to get their own industry started with these "modern" designs.

 

The Dutch had been using the three frame method to define the underwater body from the beginning.

 

What Baker is doing is trying to produce a systematic and reproducible explanation of what the Dutch were doing "on the back of an envelop that they carried in their shirt pocket".  The English wanted large ship plans - for the Royals - before any wood was committed to the ways.  A committee instead of a diva shipwright.

 

The Dutch had to deal with vast shallow water estuaries for hull forms.  This is a constraint that the English did not have.

Some of Baker may reflect general Dutch methods, but making changes to produce a deeper and more narrow hull.

Perhaps a synthesis of traditional Renaissance cross sections with "modern" design methods.

Edited by Jaager
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Jaager, it is best to hold off formulating hypotheses and drawing conclusions until the reconstruction is complete, unless you are prepared for quite a surprise. Now it has to be said that this drawing, or generally the Baker's work, has little or nothing to do with the Dutch, but rather with someone else. But more about that later in this thread.

 

 

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Before we go any further, I am posting a corrected sketch of the one shown in my post #8. As it turned out, the rising line of the floor (i.e. that in the profile view) was also constructed as a single arc, from bow to stern. This meant that its tangent point with the keel line fell slightly behind the midship frame (shown on the sketch). Alternatively, when drawn as passing through the three points (on stempost, sternpost, keel/midship frame intersection), it slightly cut the keel line. In practice, however, there is little dimensional difference between those two variants.

 

I have sometimes given two values when dimensioning the same element. The second value, given in brackets, is written on the original plan, and is usually not quite accurate.

 

Now it is perfect.

 

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Edited by Waldemar
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In Adams' (2013) book he provides a detailed analysis, including reconstructing the lines from Baker, Wells, and Deane for the midship mould. These moulds all have a common characteristic of no deadrise for the flat of the floor (midship mould) - only once the floor sweep is drawn is there any rise.  This is most apparent in folio 35 of Baker's Fragments.

 

Also of note is the caveat (often overlooked) that the construction method was not frame built, but rather whole moulding or some variant there of, where the keel and posts were erected, then a few frames installed. The shape was found by ribbands and then initial strakes installed. (Well, paraphrasing greatly that's the process).  The importance is that the shipwright did not care too much about the other frames - they were just adjustments to the midship mould based on rising and narrowing lines and measurements of the build in progress!

 

Back to Adams for a moment, he used the proportions and ratios &c. from Fragments to recreate the hull of the wreck Sea Venture as a 3d model. Preliminary results indicate a very stable vessel. His book is well worth the read as one of the most recent syntheses of the topic.

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2 hours ago, trippwj said:

In Adams' (2013) book he provides a detailed analysis, including reconstructing the lines from Baker, Wells, and Deane for the midship mould. These moulds all have a common characteristic of no deadrise for the flat of the floor (midship mould) - only once the floor sweep is drawn is there any rise.  This is most apparent in folio 35 of Baker's Fragments.

 

It seems that this observation is perfectly in line with what has been already written about hollowing curves (deadrise) in my thread on Sutherland's hull design methods.

 

 

2 hours ago, trippwj said:

Also of note is the caveat (often overlooked) that the construction method was not frame built, but rather whole moulding or some variant there of, where the keel and posts were erected, then a few frames installed. The shape was found by ribbands and then initial strakes installed. (Well, paraphrasing greatly that's the process).  The importance is that the shipwright did not care too much about the other frames - they were just adjustments to the midship mould based on rising and narrowing lines and measurements of the build in progress!

 

 

Luckily, no need to randomly guess at the particular method employed by Baker, as all the determining factors are already clearly seen on his draught itself.

 

 

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The next step is to recreate the lengthwise division of the hull for individual frames (room & space).

 

The original division has not been made in an overly precise manner. However, for the aft section of the hull (i.e. behind the midship frame) the intended spacing had to be 1 foot 11 inches. For the fore section I have chosen the same spacing, but it is also possible to have a slightly different spacing where one of the lines coincides with the geometric start of the keel, as seen in the original drawing. Source works leave not the slightest doubt that the different spacing could have been used independently for the aft and fore sections of the hull. In practice, any rather small difference seemed to make little difference.

 

It is also noteworthy that the division in both directions started not from the midship line, but from the corresponding surface of the floor timber. This means that the midship frame was to be made up of one floor timber and four futtocks, two to each side.

 

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Edited by Waldemar
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9 minutes ago, Waldemar said:

Luckily, no need to randomly guess at the particular method employed by Baker, as all the determining factors are already clearly seen on his draught itself.

No random guesswork concerning the methods. The details are in the text. The elaborate draught is thought to illustrate for the Queen the general design concept rather than define the process. This wasn't a builders draught as such but in some ways analogous to the "Admiralty model" of s slightly later period.

 

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19 minutes ago, Waldemar said:

 

Wayne, are you referring to the Baker's drawing I am currently analysing?

 

 

Affirmative. The difference between the early folios in Fragments and the later folios is dramatic. Early folios (including the folio 19 image) are elaborate and watercolored. The later folios are much more technical. See Adams (2013) page 145 as a quick summary, references Barker (1986). Barker has perhaps the most in depth information available on the manuscript that has been published. I have a copy of the full Barker "Fragments" including the footnotes and drawings, but unfortunately neglected to note where I found it!  As I recall, I had to take snapshots of each page and paste into a Word document in order to obtain a digital version.

In Appendix 2, Adams provides both the transcription from Folio 35 (the midship mould)  as well as a somewhat easier to understand modern elaboration. If you are working from Folio 19 (the three moulds superimposed on the sheer draught) the narrative there is greatly simplified.

 

Adams, J. R. 2013. A Maritime Archaeology of Ships: Innovation and Social Change in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. 2nd Revised ed. edition. Oxford, UK ; Oakville, CT: Oxbow Books.
Barker, Richard. 1986. “Fragments From The Pepysian Library.” Revista Da Universidade de Coimbra XXXII: 161–78. http://home.clara.net/rabarker/Fragments83txt.htm
 
Also see:
McGowan, Alan Patrick. 1981. Tiller and Whipstaff: The Development of the Sailing Ship, 1400-1700. H.M. Stationery Office.
 
The figure below is excerpted from Barker.
 
115602377_Fig3.jpg.29dcd93fa5e5c2985454eb1ec80b7eb0.jpg
 
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2 hours ago, Waldemar said:

the aft section the intended spacing had to be 1 foot 11 inches. For the bow section I have chosen the same spacing, but it is also possible to have a slightly different spacing

I think it is Steele,  but even two hundred years later, the outer frames at both bow and stern were allowed to have a reduced sided dimension. This was under strict limits.  I imagine that at earlier times, things were more fluid. 

The length of the timbers probably had an irregular range, based on what was in the yard.  The frames themselves probably sported a large number of chocks in the spaces, rectangular,  irregular, and of a size to hold the frames as a unit, but small enough not to block air circulation.  At a certain point, there will be a clash of practical reality and economy with scale model esthetics and modeler's convention.  

 

The frame profile in Blom of the 7P - done at the time of the build - displays an irregular mess.

The Dutch used the three frame method to shape the hull on the ways.

The English used the three frame method to shape the hull on the drawing board. 

The cross section at each station was extracted from this shape.  This was the data used in the mold loft.

 

In England, I see something like this:

The plans that were from the architect were seen as optimistic suggestions by the mold loft and shipwright.

The molds and jigs from the loft were of the midline of the bends at each station.

The shipwright determined the shape of everything in between. 

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5 hours ago, trippwj said:

No random guesswork concerning the methods. The details are in the text. The elaborate draught is thought to illustrate for the Queen the general design concept rather than define the process. This wasn't a builders draught as such but in some ways analogous to the "Admiralty model" of s slightly later period.

 

Who came up with this strange hypothesis? And what details contained in the text of the manuscript concerning this particular plan do you have in mind?

 

 

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3 hours ago, Waldemar said:

And what details contained in the text of the manuscript concerning this particular plan do you have in mind?

The detail on the midship mould addressing folio 35 that are more complete. I would love to see either a complete transcription or digital version of the full manuscript.

 

Adams notes that after the early highly decorated folios the remainder reads more like a guide for an apprentice - more technical and mathematical. The later sections (probably added by Wells) incorporate logarithms, dating those parts as post 1610 or so.

 

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In fact, I already have the main frame from this plan worked out. But in this particular case things are both more interesting and more complicated than just drawing it out. You'll see. The point is also that I intend to do much more with this historic drawing than has been done in all the modern works to date.

 

 

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And there is no need to wait. The geometric construction of the midship mould on page 35 of the manuscript has already been explained by Johnston Stephen in Mathew Baker and the Art of the Shipwright, 1994. It is different from the midship mould of the ship plan I am analysing, so it cannot be used in this reconstruction:

 

Figure 3.6. Fragments, p. 35 (redrawn).
The diagram is a simplified version of Baker’s drawing. There are many more inked and scribed lines in the original, as well as numbers for the calculation of areas.
In this example of Baker’s procedures for drawing the midship mould, breadth and depth are given as 36ft and 16ft respectively. dg = 1/5 ed. With eh = dg, draw gh. Then draw ec, cutting gh at i. Through i draw mk perpendicular to ed; ek is the floor for this half of the mould. Mark point l on gh such that hl = 2/3 gh. The first centre n is on mk and has its arc passing through k and l. Extend line ln beyond n; the second centre o is found on this extended line and its arc sweeps from l to c. To find the third centre, first mark the other half of the floor with p. The third centre q is at the intersection of oc and pn (extended). Baker then draws the upper futtock in three different ways.

 

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Edited by Waldemar
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Okay. I guess all the design ambiguities have been recognised, despite the lack of appropriate commentary on this drawing in the manuscript. What follows is a reconstruction of the main frame, featuring two details that have not yet been recognised or convincingly explained in modern works on early English ship design.

 

Firstly, the profile of the main frame in the drawing is slightly wider than the design breadth of the ship, but the quarter frames are already of normal width, in accordance with the plan view. The same phenomenon can be also observed in some other early ship draughts. This is due to the specifics of draughtsmanship and is a kind of a drawing convention. Tracing the frames in full-scale on the mould loft removes this inconsistency with the result of a 'normal' breadth.

 

The second interesting detail is two adjacent arcs of the same radius. This is not a drawing mistake, as one of these arches is part of the floor timber (template) and the other is part of the futtock timber (template). This has to do with the conceptual method of shaping the profiles of the pre-designed frames very widespread in the Mediterranean. In this method, part of the frame profile was moved vertically and horizontally and then corrected by a slight rotation (fr. le trébuchement, span. joba). Baker must have learned this method during his Mediterranean travels and from Venetian immigrants. Ultimately, however, the method did not catch on in England, and no early English source work on shipbuilding describes this method.

 

 

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Edited by Waldemar
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First, it should be said that the true line of greatest breadth was not drawn on the profile view or is invisible on the copy I am using. However, it could easily have been reconstructed thanks to the drawn profiles of the three frames in the original plan. This is the arc connecting the top of the sternpost to the quadrant point of the stempost, passing through the level of the greatest width of the frames.

 

The accompanying drawing shows, in particular, the formation of the two quarter frames. The dashed lines show the successive positions of the futtock mould, moved vertically and horizontally according to the floor line coordinates, and then rotated to the point of contact with the arc of the greatest breadth. All the other frames in between the quarter frames could have been designed and constructed in exactly the same way, prior to their actual assembly into the hull under construction.

 

The hollowing curves at the bottom of the frames have a rather careless character of quickly drawn single arcs to save time.

 

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